No shirt, no shoes, no service

Monday, December 22nd, 2003, 6:49 pm

I’ve never played poker in a casino. I’ve been to a casino twice–well, three times if you count the minicasino on my honeymoon cruise ship, and I don’t. I only played the slots and video poker during my visits to these dens of blessed iniquity, and I must admit that I don’t remember much about them. I wasn’t drunk–I’ll even sign an affidavit stating that–but it was a long time ago.

I do remember a little old lady hitting the slot machine down the row for $500, and while the flattops wearing earpieces and magenta blazers determined that the LOL had indeed won and wasn’t some kind of gaming-based criminal, she kept feeding the machine and playing away. I also remember watching my buddy play blackjack at the Taj and a waitress brought a drink to one of the players and she was wearing this “I Dream of Jeannie” outfit and she was showing enough cleavage to ski down. That’s something that tends to stick in the mind.

But someday I’d like to go to Vegas and take a seat in a real poker room and play against faces instead of computerized avatars. Play with casino chips and tuxedoed dealers and prodigiously bosomed waitresses bringing me martinis (shaken, not stirred). Go heads up against a sinister man wearing an eyepatch and stroking a white angora cat, and then use my winnings to pay off a Mob bookie named Louie Push-Push and save my best friend from getting his thumbs lopped off.

That’s the fantasy. I’m sure the reality is that I’ll be playing against a gin-besotted orthodontist from Topeka and sitting next to a guy who needs a bath, a shave, a haircut, another bath, and a steel-wool manicure.

I’d still like to play in a casino, but I have some questions about what is and isn’t done. Let’s start with this: During ESPN’s WSOP coverage Howard Lederer was up against Kenna James in a hand. Lederer held pocket 7s and raised, and James, with pocket Queens, went all-in. As Lederer fixed his Vulcan mind-meld stare on him, James zipped up his windbreaker, pulled down the brim of his baseball cap, and hid his whole face from Howard’s malevolent gaze. About fifteen seconds later Lederer mucked his cards and said, “You can come out now”.

Now, lots of pros wear sunglasses and caps to the table to hide their eyes. My question is this–can you come to the table wearing, say, a welder’s mask? How about a complete deep-sea diving outfit?

I’m sure some card rooms have rules against you coming to the table in a Halloween costume, but I thought of a way around that. When I finally get my seat in the World Series, I’m having my entire face Botoxed. Forehead, eyes, nose, ears, lips, chin, tongue–the works. The process is temporary (a few months, tops) and I dare Phil Hellmuth to read anything from my slack, sliding, toxin-frozen face. I may look like I’ve had a double-hemispheric stroke, but when I check-raise on the river with the nut flush you’ll know that, behind the drooling mien, Mean Gene is totally in the game.

True, making yourself understood at the table might be a bit difficult when you’re paralyzed from the neck up. I’d have to go over things with the dealers first. If I say, “Hyuhh!”, that means check. “Hyuhh hyuhh!” means call. “Hyuh-hyuh-hyuhhh!” means raise. I can just see it now–I’ve just won a testy pot against Amarillo Slim when my pair of fours beats his treys.

“Well, that there was ah fine call, mah friend,” Slim drawls.

“GUUUULAAAHHHHLLLLGGGG,” I say, stacking my chips.

“Y’all have tha heart of ah cliff divah,” Slim says admiringly.

(Slurpingly)”GLUGG…GLUGGGHHH…GLAHHHHHHGGGUUUHHHHHLLLLGGG!”

And while Sam Farha has his cigarette and Amir Vahedi his cigar, I’ll have a big hunk of natural sponge to soak up my dribbling saliva. Drool might pose a problem–if I really start to gush it might be a tell that I have a big hand. Note to self–get your salivary glands cauterized.

Another question–what to wear at the table. I wonder at what temperature the casinos have found most encourages ruinous gambling. I’m hoping they keep it cool, baby, cool. At several of the WPT tournaments players were wearing suits (Chris Karagullyan, Devilfish Ulliot) and I couldn’t stop thinking about how HOT those guys must be.

I’m a bit rotund–not fat, necessarily (though according to my BMI I should be pricing cemetary plots) but I’m a big guy. I generate a lot of heat. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s being in a hot, crowded place where there isn’t a breeze and I’m sitting and sweating and I’m overdressed and I’m chafing and I can’t escape. And the idea of sitting at a poker table for hours in a suit and tie makes me…well, it makes me break out in a sweat. And don’t get me started on Chris Ferguson. When I see the 2000 World Champion sitting at the table wearing a black 3-piece suit, cowboy boots, cowboy hat and shades, and with all that hair and that beard…I about break out in a rash.

So I guess they keep it fairly cool. But it can’t be TOO cool in there because outside it’s probably like 137 degrees and folks leaving the air-conditioned haven of the casino and venturing into the oven-like, liquid-leaching desert heat would drop dead from acute dehydration and sunstroke-induced cardiac arrest. And while casinos do want to pauperize and otherwise destroy your life, they don’t in fact want to END your life. Especially when stepping over fresh corpses might inconvienience the whales.

So, again, what to wear. Some of the guys at the table wear clothes I wouldn’t be caught dead in a ditch wearing. There was a guy at the final table of “Showdown at the Sands”, I think his name was Paul Schied, who had on a marigold-yellow polo shirt with some kind of pattern in the fabric. Ghastly. Need we mention the appalling red patterened shirt Freddy Deeb wore that so rattled poor Phil Ivey. I can hardly bring myself to recall Scotty Nguyen’s bright yellow T-shirt and even brighter magenta baseball cap. It made me long for the days of black-and-white TV, though Scotty was doubtless just trying to drive his opponents a wee bit closer to insanity. And then we have Humberto Brenes, who looks like he’s wearing three or four different and complete sets of clothes all at the same time. It boggles the mind. I mean, if you’re going to be on TV, how about some subdued colors, some natural fabrics?

Christ, I sound like I should be on “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”.

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